Wednesday, February 13
Chance, Coincidence, Pattern
7:51“You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit. As your ancestors did, you do also. 52Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They even killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. 53You received the law under the direction of angels and yet have not kept it.”
54 When they heard these things, they were enraged and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven. He saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 He said, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
57 They yelled at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and together rushed against him. 58 They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. And the witnesses laid their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he called out: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 He knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” And after saying this, he died.
(Act 7:51-60 CSB)
Bible stories can become so familiar that we breeze through them without reflecting much on what we’ve actually read. Or we forget that the Bible is describing real historical events that happened to real people.
Stephen was stoned to death. An angry mob surrounded him and hurled stone after stone at him, taking off their outer garments so that they could throw better. Until Stephen collapsed. Bloody mouth, bruised eyes, cracked skull. It was gruesome and brutal. Take a moment and give Stephen’s life, death, and testimony the honor it deserves.
Stephen’s death may not have been familiar to you, but it might have sounded familiar:
So they came, seized him, and took him to the Sanhedrin. (Acts 6:12)
They seized him [Jesus], led him away and brought him in to the high priest’s house. . .and brought him before their Sanhedrin. (Acts 22:54, 66)
. . .
They also presented false witnesses who said, “This man never stops speaking against this holy place and the law. For we heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place…” (Acts 6:13)
Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, stating, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands, and in three days I will build another not made by hands.’” (Mark 14:57-58)
. . .
“Are these things true?” the high priest asked [Stephen]. (Acts 7:1)
They all asked, “If you are the Messiah, tell us. . .Are you, then, the Son of God?” (Luke 22:67, 70)
Then the high priest stood up before them all and questioned Jesus, “Don’t you have an answer?” (Mark 14:60)
. . .
He [Stephen] said, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:56)
But he [Jesus] said to them…“But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” (Luke 22:69)
. . .
They dragged [Stephen] out of the city… (Acts 7:58)
They led [Jesus] out to crucify him…(Mark 15:20)…at the place called the Skull. (Luke 23:32)
. . .
While they were stoning Stephen, he called out: “Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit!” (Acts 7:59)
And Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father into your hands I entrust my Spirit!” (Luke 23:46a)
. . .
He knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60a)
Then Jesus said, “Father forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
. . .
And after saying this, he died. (Acts 7:60b)
Saying this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46b)
. . .
Devout men buried Stephen and mourned deeply over him. (Acts 8:2)
There was a good and righteous man named Joseph…[he] asked for Jesus’s body. Taking it down, he wrapped it in fine linen and placed it in a tomb” (Acts 23:50, 52-53)
There is an adage that says: Once is Chance. Twice is Coincidence. Third Time is a Pattern.
Luke wasn’t lazy. He wasn’t using a ‘death scene’ template or just using copy/paste from his first letter.
Luke is creating a pattern.
With this pattern, Luke does not mean to compare Stephen to Jesus, but to make the point that the life of a follower of Jesus will pattern the life—and death—of Jesus. The disciples were to live radically pure and loving lives, as taught and demonstrated by Jesus. They were to evangelize, baptize, and teach. Worship, prayer, and fellowship were to be daily activities. Violent opposition, false and twisted testimony, and gruesome death were also part of the pattern, though.
American Christianity has been infiltrated by a pattern of thought that says if you believe in Jesus, God will take care of your problems. We [rightly] reject the message of the prosperity gospel that declares God’s will for you is to bless you with health and wealth, but vestiges remain. We often feel offended when God allows continued suffering, and we can become downright angry when our ‘religious rights’ are in any way infringed. We consider policies like restrictions on prayer in public venues persecution, when it is more accurately a political debate that reveals our unprecedented freedoms and privilege in American society. The truth is, we have not yet resisted to the point of shedding [our] blood (Hebrews 12:4). The truth is, we’ve never had to face stones being hurled at our face.
That is our calling, though. Jesus never promised religious liberty. He did promise trouble. Suffering, sacrifice, and being misunderstood are part of the job description. We can be thankful and defend the amazing laws of our land, but let us make sure that we do not focus our primary energies in defense of laws and human systems, but instead fix our eyes on Jesus—the Son of Man standing at the right hand of the power of God.
Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses [in the Greek, martus, the same word for martyr] surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us. Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Father, I don’t have the endurance to face the stones, to face a cross. The faith to do that can only come from you. Whatever trouble I may encounter, grant me the faith to stay true to the faith and keep my eyes focused on you. In Jesus name, Amen.
Pick Four More Activities
Listen and Worship.
Pray a Psalm.
Read a Book.
Retell the Gospel to Yourself.
Take Some Notes on Today's Devotional.
Pray for Yourself, Your Family, Your Church, and the Lost.
Memorize a Verse.
List Five Things You're Thankful For.